Where: Little Andorra, 555 Nicholson Street Carlton North
What: Perhaps the best intolerance-friendly meal I’ve had this year
Who: Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
A short menu makes me nervous because I’m afraid there won’t be a dish on it that will cater to all my intolerances, but I shouldn’t have worried at Little Andorra.
Little Andorra is a cutesy wine bar tucked away on an unassuming corner of Nicholson Street. It has a narrow bar entrance peppered with tables, should you want to sit inside, which then meanders into a cosy, leafy courtyard with wooden tables. We chose to dine in the courtyard on this occasion to take advantage of the unseasonably hot November evening (I would have gladly taken refuge in the air-conditioned confines of the bar, but that’s just me).
Little Andorra’s menu has around 10 dishes designed to share – from small bites such as olives and terrine to bigger plates such as porterhouse steak and pasta. I was unsure if the food would be Andorran, and while there are French and Spanish influences on the menu, it would best be classified under the umbrella term of ‘modern Australian’. It’s an unpretentious menu, with no fancy words obfuscating meaning – each item rattles off a list of ingredients that are used and nothing else. Porterhouse steak, salsa verde. Charred bean, radicchio, radish and pickled shallot salad. Burrata, heirloom tomato, napoli, basil, charred toast.
Max-Two-Legs-Animal Eater only eats two-legged or legless (no, not the elf from Lord of the Rings) animals. Think poultry and seafood. Her selective omnivorism coupled with my intolerances meant many of the menu items were off limits to us, but we managed to find a few suitable dishes. Shout-out to the incredibly helpful waitress we had who helped us navigate the menu and completely understood the limitations of my diet because she suffered from the very same intolerances herself.
Little Andorra features half a dozen new wines every week, and so I couldn’t resist ordering a Prosecco, while Max-Two-Legs went for a Campari spritz.
Little Andorra’s courtyard is delightful, but tiny – I bumped into an old colleague who I was forced to exchange pleasantries with, and tables are reasonably close to one another, which means you can hear much of what the neighbouring table is discussing and vice versa. But good news (for some) is: you can bring your dog! Old colleague brought two of his and they were happily yapping away and running circles around their owners.
Our first dish of broccoli, chickpeas, labne and chilli arrived, and it was the perfect accompaniment to the balmy weather. The broccoli was crisp, the pan-fried chickpeas well seasoned and crunchy, the dollops of labne refreshing, and the chilli well proportioned. Labne – which translates to mean marinated yoghurt cheese balls – typically has garlic but this mustn’t have, because the waiter didn’t bat an eyelid when we ordered it and I felt fine after. If I could recreate this dish at home, I would eat it every second day – it was that good.
Soon after, our two remaining dishes arrived – Max-Two-Legs is one of my more sensible friends, so we ordered just the right amount of food.
Potatoes are often cooked in garlic, but our waiter reassured us that these duck fat potatoes could be made without and so they were. Long, plump oblongs of potato had been doused in duck fat and then cooked with sprinklings of oregano and sea salt – needless to say, they were delicious.
Included in the specials menu on the day we visited, the smoked duck breast had a lovely tenderness to it, accentuated by the bitter crunch of the radicchio and the sweetness of the diced beetroot squares. Beetroot is high in fructans, but I didn’t eat enough of it to feel sick on this occasion. The duck breast was sliced into several pieces, exemplifying Little Andorra’s sharing ethos.
Pleasantly full yet still yearning for something sweet, Max-Two-Legs and I ordered a glass of sherry each – we went for Pedro Ximénez after consulting our ever helpful waitress. Notes of plum, raisins and fig – the only time I’m happy to have something tasting like a raisin in my mouth – enveloped my tastebuds. In hindsight, it was a touch too heavy for the sweltering night, but it was everything we felt like at the time.
Little Andorra has the vibe of a neighbourhood local, but it’s worth travelling far and wide for. Don’t bother checking out the menu online, for Little Andorra is constantly reinventing and rejigging; all you need to know is that each dish utilises seasonal produce in simple yet inventive ways. And if you’re addled with intolerances as I am, they’ve got your back.
Little Andorra is open from 2pm to 11pm Sunday to Wednesday and from 2pm to 1am Thursday to Saturday.